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August 18, 2011

Don't Buy Wild: Tourist Attractions and Live Animals

Humane Society International

  • A monkey at a Nicaraguan zoo. HSI

  • Marine mammals like dolphins are not well-suited to captivity. istock

  • A donkey in the Dominican Republic. Carly Ikuma/HSI

By participating in certain activities while traveling, you may be feeding the demand for captive wildlife and wildlife for entertainment. Live animals are often used in a variety of tourist attractions, and while vendors may claim that they came from sustainable sources and are treated well, it is likely that the opposite is true. The following are some examples of attractions and activities that you should avoid patronizing or participating in.

 Animal performances and displays

All over the world, animals are made to perform in rodeos, bullfights, and circuses, are displayed in zoos and aquaria, and are sometimes even exhibited in hotels and restaurants. Many of these captive creatures have been taken from their habitats and trained to do unnatural tricks for tourists. The dancing bears in Eastern Europe are one example.

These animals are often subjected to improper housing and care. Many receive little, if any, veterinary attention. Everything about their lives—from diet to exercise (or lack thereof)—may be inappropriate and inadequate to their needs.

You can help reduce the proliferation of animal entertainment and displays by refusing to attend events involving animals or to visit animal displays. When a hotel, restaurant, or other tourist attraction features birds or other animals, let your objections be known. Speak to the manager and to your tour operator and encourage your travel companions to do the same.

 Rides, encounters and walks

In many countries, animals like camels, elephants, donkeys and horses are used to earn income from tourists through rides and safaris. These animals are often malnourished and/or physically abused, and may even walk about with open wounds. They are expected to carry very heavy loads for extended periods of time. All too often, old, ill or pregnant animals who should not be ridden are offered for hire. Please do not support these enterprises. Let your tour guide and the manager in your hotel know that you are disturbed by such cruelty.

“Lion walk” experiences by organizations that breed lions and allow people close interaction with them ultimately remove the fear that these animals should have of humans. The possibility of attack is high and in such instances the animals always pay with their lives. The project serves no conservation purpose, as such animals cannot and will not be returned to the wild.

"Swim with the dolphins" attractions are yet another tourist trap to avoid. Dolphins are commercially exploited in marine parks, aquaria, and "swim with the dolphins" (SWTD) programs worldwide. Learn more about why you should not patronize these facilities.

 Photo opportunities

Tourists generally love a good photo-op. Pictures of interesting or exotic spots capture happy memories of good times. Unfortunately, they can also serve as records of man's inhumanity towards the animal kingdom.

Cute monkeys, young lions, colorful parrots, and other animals and birds taken from the wild are sometimes posed outside restaurants or busy tourist attractions. For a nominal fee, local entrepreneurs will take the visitor's picture with these creatures. Tempting as it may be to want to support the local economy in this modest way, stop for a moment to consider the animals. Taken from the wild, usually as babies and often at the expense of killing their parents, these creatures are over handled and kept for long periods without food, water, and shelter. The larger and more dangerous animals may be drugged. When out of the public eye, they generally live in tiny cages, are fed inadequate and inappropriate diets, and are denied veterinary care. And when they are old, sick or no longer considered cute, they are abandoned.

Please help put a stop to such cruelty. Don't have your picture taken with animals that have been captured from the wild. Make your objection to such practices known to restaurant owners, your tour guide or another appropriate official. Remember that the best photo-op for animals is in their natural habitat.

A better way

There are certainly ways to interact with wildlife that are safe and beneficial for both you and the animals. When done right, "volunteer with wildlife" programs can be an all around rewarding experience. Learn more about what to look for.

To download a simplified and portable version of our Don't Buy Wild Guide, click here. [PDF]

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